Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bountiful Barley.

I am visiting Dublin for a few days, and naturally my sightseeing focus is on ‘food’ – using the term as widely as seems appropriate. Few would argue the inclusion of beer and whisky in that definition, so today I visited the Guinness Storehouse (free pint at the end) and the Jameson’s Whisky Distillery (free nip at the end).

Both ‘attractions’ are well worth the visit if you are in Dublin for a while. I was reminded of how incredibly useful is barley - the prime ingredient in both beverages. Barley is essential of course in Artificial Asses’ Milk too, as we have found out previously, and in good old-fashioned Barley Water, which we have not had a recipe for to date. Then there is barley bread, the basic food of many peasant communities over the centuries. But what of barley in soup?

I saw (and tasted) barley in various stages of preparation – crushed, roasted, malted – but not pearled. What is pearl barley – the standard form (although not the universally preferred form*) used for soup? This is barley which has been hulled, steam processed, then polished to remove more of the remaining bran – leaving it marginally less nutritious but significantly more cookable and palatable.

Here is the inimitable Dr Kitchiner’s recipe and medicinal opinion for Barley Water, from his Cook’s Oracle (1822)

Barley Water.
Take a couple of ounces of Pearl Barley; wash it clean with cold water; put it into half a pint of boiling water and let it boil for five minutes; pour off this water and add to it two quarts of boiling water; boil it to two pints and strain it.

The above is simple Barley Water:- to a quart of this is frequently added
Two ounces of Figs sliced;
The same of Raisins stoned;
Half an ounce of Liquorice sliced and bruised;
And a pint of water.
Boil till it is reduced to a quart and strain.

Obs:- These Drinks are intended to assuage thirst in ardent Fevers, and inflammatory disorders, for which plenty of mild diluting liquor is one of the principal remedies: - and if not suggested by the Medical attendant, is frequently demanded by honest Instinct in terms too plain to be misunderstood; - the Stomach sympathizes with every fibre of the human frame, and no part of it can be distressed without in some degree offending the Stomach;- therefore it is of the utmost importance to soothe this grand Organ by rendering every thing we offer to it as elegant and agreeable as the nature of the case will admit of; the Barley drink prepared according to the second receipt will be received with pleasure by the most delicate palate.

* Mistress Dods has very strong views on the virtues of pot barley vs pearl barley in Scotch Barley Broth.

Quotation for the Day.

In the age of acorns, before the times of Ceres, a single barley-corn had been of more value to mankind than all the diamonds of the mines of India.
Henry Brooke.

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